The problem with so many documentaries is a lack of cohesive focus, the result of too many ideas and intentions -- linked but incongruent -- for any certain purpose to be conveyed. Such an identity crisis can ruin the most well-meant film, but it almost seems appropriate to the homosexual and transsexual issues fumbling around in Katherine Linton's Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig.
In 2003, record producer Chris Slusarenko put together a tribute album called Wig in a Box that featured popular artists such as The Breeders, They Might Be Giants, The Polyphonic Spree, Spoon and Sleater-Kinney covering the songs of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock musical about a transsexual that was also made into a cult film. The proceeds from the sales of the album went toward funding for New York City's Harvey Milk School in its transformation from a youth center for gay, bisexual and transgender students into an accredited public high school.
Linton's film follows the recording process, and also features a few teens who attend HMS including Tenaja Jordan, a lesbian outcast from her Jehovah's Witness family on Staten Island, and Angel Santiago, a transgendered teen whose parents continually throw out her girl clothes. Despite being an endearing look into the lives of these troubled kids, it hardly connects their problems, which are conveyed mostly as domestic, with their need for a distanced means of education. Only one student, Raphael Ramos, lightly touches on the abuse received at his former school and how that abuse makes HMS a crucial alternative.
Meanwhile, the making-of sequences, inter-cut with the students' profiles -- as if watching Frank Black sing into a microphone and watching lesbian teen model Mey Bun talk about the loneliness of not fitting in could merit equal concentrations -- provide very little substance other than visual support for the soundtrack, which advertises the album successfully as something more exciting than the movie being viewed. Only a few of the artists, among them The Bens (made up of Ben Lee, Ben Folds and Ben Kweller), go into the importance of their involvement, though their patronage seems more committed to the broad cause and their love for Hedwig than to HMS in particular. Yoko Ono's session with Yo La Tengo, however, is so delectable that it may be worth the price of admission alone.
Reminiscent of the faults I found with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's The Boys of Baraka, which similarly promoted a supposedly advantageous institution based in self-segregation, Follow My Voice gives no history or in depth examination of the actual school's program or why it makes sense for the album to provide it a benefit. The few scenes shot inside HMS are insultingly stereotypical, showcasing a variety show and other theatric playtimes in place of academics. Sure, The Hendrick-Martin Institute, the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) organization that originally ran the school, and HMS itself are reputable in many ways, but you wouldn't know about their assets from this documentary.